“Are you nervous?”
My anesthesiologist probably asks every patient he sees before a major surgery that very same question. In my mind I hoped to be that strong person that answered, “no, are you kidding me? A bilateral mastectomy? No big deal. Bring it on.” Instead, I replied in a very small shaking voice, “yes.”
My bilateral mastectomy was scheduled for noon on Wednesday, October 19. I arrived at the hospital at ten o’clock as instructed and signed myself in. Why do I have to be at the hospital two hours early? Doesn’t that seem like a bit much? Oh yes, the purpose is sheer and utter torture. I forgot. Those two hours enabled me to have plenty of time to think about what was about to happen to me. I felt like I was in an unjustifiable detention—I had done nothing wrong to deserve this.
In the waiting room my family and I were given a big plastic buzzer like the ones you would see at Chili’s or something, like we were just waiting for a table. “When your pager buzzes it is your turn!” Great, I thought. Do I get an awesome blossom with that?!? Several friends stopped by to wish us luck and to pray with us, carrying massive floral arrangements and gift baskets. I was overwhelmed by the love and support I had. I am truly grateful. I tried to be social but for obvious reasons my mind was far away in another place where I was determined to keep it. At that point I was just trying to keep it together. No fainting was my number one goal. After about 20 minutes of waiting my buzzer went off and my heart dropped to my knees, through the floor, and possibly through the entire planet as well. The air was completely sucked out of me. I kept thinking, this is really happening. THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!
After two hours of meeting with my medical team (I will save the details of what that entailed—trust me you don’t want to know. All I will say is that a radiologist came in with six canisters that looked like bombs. And she was the lucky one assigned the task of breaking the news that she had to put some radioactive material in my chest which meant 6 shots of it—3 on each side.) It was time to go after all the prep was finished, consent forms were signed, and questions were answered such as, “Do you have a living will? What about a DNR?” No, lady, I wanted to say, do you? My nurse came in and told me the time had come. Now? You mean like right now? It all happened so quickly. One minute I was talking to my family and the next minute I was being wheeled down this stark white hall with huge fluorescent lights hanging above me from the ceiling. I was moments away from the operating room. No turning back now.
The final goodbyes before a major surgery such as this one really are as dramatic as you see in the movies. Or at least in my family they are. I said goodbye to my sister, dad, aunt, and mom one by one as I headed into the surgery prep area. I kept telling my family I loved them and it was going to all be fine. Whatever the surgeons find in there we will deal with. Did I believe that with all my heart? No. I was scared just like they were. But I wanted my family to be comforted. I didn’t want them to be afraid. I turned back around and my whole family was standing there watching me be rolled away with tears in their eyes. I kept trying to say, “it will all be fine, it will all be just fine.” But I was so petrified myself that the words came out only as a small whisper.
I was all alone now. Just the doctors and me. And all the blood rushed to my face—I have trusted my life to these doctors. And that was when I heard those three little words when my anesthesiologist appeared to wheel me the rest of the way to the OR, “are you nervous?” “Yes,” I answered. “I am trying very hard not to be.” “Well,” he said, “we are about to make you not nervous at all.” And with a quick introduction to my “happy mask” my anesthesiologist sent me off to another place. Hopefully a beautiful and spotless cancer-free one.